The popularization of the Bible entered a new phase in 2003, when Thomas Nelson created the BibleZine. Wayne Hastings described a meeting in which a young editor, who had conducted numerous focus groups and online surveys, presented the idea. “She brought in a variety of teen-girl magazines and threw them out on the table,” he recalled. “And then she threw a black bonded-leather Bible on the table and said, ‘Which would you rather read if you were sixteen years old?’ ” The result was “Revolve,” a New Testament that looked indistinguishable from a glossy girls’ magazine. The 2007 edition features cover lines like “Guys Speak Their Minds” and “Do U Rush to Crush?” Inside, the Gospels are surrounded by quizzes, photos of beaming teen-agers, and sidebars offering Bible-themed beauty secrets:
Have you ever had a white stain appear underneath the arms of your favorite dark blouse? Don’t freak out. You can quickly give deodorant spots the boot. Just grab a spare toothbrush, dampen with a little water and liquid soap, and gently scrub until the stain fades away. As you wash away the stain, praise God for cleansing us from all the wrong things we have done. (1 John 1:9)
“Revolve” was immediately popular with teen-agers. “They weren’t embarrassed anymore,” Hastings said. “They could carry it around school, and nobody was going to ask them what in the world it is.” Nelson quickly followed up with other titles, including “Refuel,” for boys; “Blossom,” for tweens; “Real,” for the “vibrant urban crowd” (it comes bundled with a CD of Christian rap); and “Divine Health,” which has notes by the author of the best-selling diet book “What Would Jesus Eat?” To date, Nelson has sold well over a million BibleZines.
Of course, my first concern is: are these books theologically sound? Do they treat the philosophy of religion with the seriousness that is its due? My next thought was to wonder how to counter this kind of glib cultural programming, and I suspect the only appropriate response would be a lengthy, in-depth, scholarly dissection of Anselm’s work, or perhaps an exegesis on the ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas. That’ll wake people up to the silliness being peddled to their children.
All the criticisms of Dawkins and Harris need to be inverted—it’s not that they are insufficiently schooled in theology, it’s that they’re just too freakin’ high-minded and serious, and they’re addressing on an intellectual level a bunch of ideas that are transmitted in the same way that fashion labels get traction.